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«Factors Influencing Undergraduate Women‟s Educational Aspirations Sharrika D. Davis Dissertation submitted to the faculty of Virginia Polytechnic ...»

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Factors Influencing Undergraduate Women‟s Educational Aspirations

Sharrika D. Davis

Dissertation submitted to the faculty of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Dr. Joan B. Hirt, Chair

Dr. Yasuo Miyazaki, Co-chair

Dr. Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd

Dr. Steven M. Janosik

Dr. Diana Ridgwell

April 2, 2009

Blacksburg, Virginia


Graduate school, Family, Faculty, Peers, Race/Ethnicity, Aspirations and Women Factors Influencing Undergraduate Women‟s Educational Aspirations By Sharrika D. Davis Abstract Education is one key to economic prosperity and a predictor of overall life satisfaction.

The further one progresses through the educational pipeline, the more likely it is that she may prosper. However, in a society bolstered by patriarchal systems, economic and educational inequalities exist among the genders.

Educational aspirations are influenced by students‟ socialization experiences. Faculty teach students about their discipline. Families influence educational pursuits. Peers serve as reinforcements or challenges to academic progress. All three groups are socialization agents to students pursuing higher education.

Research indicates that various socialization agents influence whether students pursue an undergraduate degree. However, there is little literature specifically focused on women and less on the relationship between women‟s undergraduate socialization experiences and their decision to enroll in graduate studies.

The purpose of this study was to determine whether certain collegiate experiences (with family, faculty and peers) predict undergraduate women‟s expectation to enroll in graduate study and to determine if the experiences influence expectation to enroll by race. The sample included women who completed the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ) Fourth edition.

The study employed logistic regression to explore the relationship between undergraduate women‟s educational aspirations and family, faculty and peer influences. In addition, I examined whether the associations between family, faculty and peers differed by race/ethnicity.

The results of the logistic regression revealed tha

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This journey to complete the Doctor of Philosophy degree was not made alone; therefore, there are many groups and individuals that I would like to thank. First, thank you to my teacher, assistantship supervisor, advisor and dissertation chair, Dr. Joan Hirt. Thank you for your years of listening, guiding and advising as I worked towards finishing this degree. Your support has been invaluable and is immeasurable.

I would also like to thank Drs. Steve Janosik and Don Creamer for their teaching, perspectives and support throughout this program. I extend special thanks to Dr. Nikol Alexander-Floyd for her interest and support as I made my way from student to scholar. Thank you to Drs. Yasuo Miyazaki and Diana Ridgwell for their time, effort and expertise while completing this dissertation project.

Throughout my tenure at Virginia Tech I have been surrounded by peers and colleagues who have encouraged my academic, personal and professional growth. Thank you to Dr. Gerry Kowalski who first recognized my interest in furthering my education and encouraged me to “go for it”. Also, thanks to my friends in the Virginia Tech Women‟s Center, Residence Life, Judicial Affairs and the Dean of Students offices for their thoughts, insight and continual support since I first arrived in Blacksburg.

There were many who kept me “fed and watered” emotionally, personally, spiritually, physically and mentally as I pursued this degree. I am indebted to the following women who lent an ear and whose words and actions have mentored and bolstered me professionally and personally through the years: Drs. Bethany Flora, Pat Hyer, Kimberly LaBoone, Barbara Pendergrass, Ellen Plummer, Karen Sanders, Miya Simpson, Bevlee Watford, and the late Zenobia Lawrence Hikes. Special thanks also go to Julie Kamienski, Penny Cook, Christine Dennis-Smith and Dr. Anna LoMascolo.

This academic pursuit began with an admissions interview weekend many years ago and a cohort of budding scholars. Over the years the cohort has come and gone and new friends were made along the way. I‟ve had the pleasure of sharing my journey with Drs. Terrell Strayhorn, Catherine Amelink, Belinda Bennett McFeeter, Jody Thompson and Melanie Hayden. Thanks also to Chris MacDonald, Yolanda Avent, Claude Steele, Frances Keene, Nick Spruill, Rev. Lisa Tabor, Rev. Glenn Orr and Trey Waller. Let‟s keep pressing on. To the Higher Ed dissertation El Rod group – Cara McFadden, Tracey Cameron, Rachael Stimpson and Martha Glass - always v save me a spot at the table! I owe special thanks to Dr. Joshua A. Joseph, Jr. Thank you for being academic big brother and helping me keep things in perspective. God bless you all.

I would not have made it in Blacksburg without my church family. God did a special thing when I was led to FBC. To the angel of First Church, Rev. Dr. P.L. Barrett – thank you for your unwavering encouragement, support and friendship...for welcoming me into an extended family and for being my pastor. I also am thankful for Rev. Ron and Monique Parker. As the oldest child in my family, I never had older siblings. However, God delivered a special big brother-sister pair in the two of you! Thank you for EVERYTHING. If I listed it all, I‟d surely be writing for an additional decade! You both are angels and some of the best friends I have. God bless you both.

Thanks also to the First Church family. To my Voices of Expression choir family, Women‟s Ministry sisters and the congregation, when I leave here to unite with some other church as our church covenant instructs, I know I will be blessed; but I will never find a group like First Church. Thank you for keeping me grounded, prayed over and encouraged.

I want to acknowledge and thank my friends and family that have encouraged me along the way. I owe you all many visits and phone calls. Dr. Brian W. Paitsel, we said while we were yet in undergrad that we‟d be doctors together. Now, we‟ve done it!

Thank you to my family for their continued encouragement. Sydney, my “little” sister, I think I may have learned more from you over the years. I love you and am so proud of you!

Mom (Linda) and Dad (Charles), who knew that this is what the journey would be like? Words cannot properly express what we have been through. Your perseverance, fortitude have been witnessed, and prayers have been received – felt by me and heard by God. Thank you for your encouragement from the absolute beginning through to the end. To my sister and parents, this is our degree.

Finally, I thank God for this experience. I thank Him for manifold blessings, praise Him for His goodness and mercy and worship Him in His awesomeness! When I prayed many years ago about earning my doctoral degree I never could have imagined all that I would have learned.

I never would have guessed that so much of it would happen outside of the classroom. This was a lesson that needed to be learned about scholarship, life and faith. Educator Patrick Overton



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Tables Variables, Descriptions, Variable Names and Codes ……………………………… 25 Demographic Characteristics of the Sample and Results of χ2 Test of Association.

Reliability Coefficients and Descriptive Statistics of Composite Variables ………. 40

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5 Results of Logistic Regression for Main Effect of Three Types of Experiences on Graduate Degree Aspirations with Covariates ……………………………. 46 6 Results of Logistic Regression for Variables on Expectation to Enroll in Graduate Study Considering Race Variables and Interactions ………………. 48 Figures Relationship between Aspiration and Faculty Experience by Race ……………….. 55 Relationship between Aspiration and Peer Experiences by Race ………………….

Chapter One


One socio-economic indicator that the United States is facing turbulent times is the financial disparity between the rich and the poor and the gendered hegemony inherent in that disparity. In 2006, women earned $0.77 for every dollar that men earned (National Committee on Pay Equity, 2007). Differentiation in earning power not only creates financial disparities, but also illuminates other hidden differences by class, race/ethnicity and educational levels (Williams, 1995).

Education is one of the keys to economic prosperity and overall life satisfaction (Institute of Higher Education Policy, 2005; Perna, 2005). On average, a high school graduate earns $26,104 per year. In contrast, a doctoral degree recipient earns $71,196 per year. U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate that the higher the educational degree earned, the higher the mean income within American households (U. S. Department of Education, 2004).

These statistics suggest that education is a crucial factor in achieving higher earning potential and socio-economic status. Higher socio-economic status and educational level yields additional private and public benefits including: better overall health, overall job satisfaction, greater civic participation, and lower unemployment rates (Educational Pipeline, 2004; Institute of Higher Education Policy, 2005; Perna, 2005). Arguably then, moving through the educational pipeline, from completing high school through earning a doctoral degree is one of the keys to personal and economic prosperity in the United States.

However, education is not the only key to success. Gender has an impact on earning power of men and women in society. For each educational level reported in the 2000 U.S.

census, men consistently earned more than women (U.S. Census Bureau, Table P-18, 2000).

Scholars suggest that feminism and Marxism may explain these gendered economic disparities– namely that capitalism is a patriarchal system (Hartmann, 1997; Nicholson, 1997). A patriarchal society is defined as “a set of social relations between men that have a material base, and which, through hierarchy, establish or create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women” (Hartmann, 1997, p. 101). Men‟s financial prosperity in an economically-based society serves as a means of oppression for women because money signifies power. Hite (1985) suggests that education is also associated with power; therefore, the more professional, educational, and financial opportunity men have, the more power they accrue in society.

Patriarchy is established through exclusion and/or the obstruction of women from productive resources such as work, promotion, and education. It is reinforced through male bosses and professors. Feminist theorists further assert that men are collectively united in their domination over women and are dependent on each other to maintain this power struggle (Hartmann, 1997; Nicholson, 1997). This power struggle is perpetuated through hegemonic institutions such as the economy and educational systems.

Members of organizations are often led by various power systems including the management of members by gender. Morgan (1997) suggests that members are managed and led through gender relations that may favor one gender over the other. When men are favored over women, a patriarchal system is imposed. For example, when “sponsors, mentors and...informal networks for touching base, sounding out, or merely shooting the breeze” (p. 186) provide men opportunities for advancement over women, patriarchy is sustained. These alliances, networks, and control of informal organization are sources of power in a profession.

In higher education, the socialization process is one way of creating networks, mentors and sponsors, hence garnering professional prestige and power. Socialization in educational settings begins with students.

Socialization is “a process by which students acquire the attitudes, beliefs, values, and skills needed to participate effectively in the organized activities of their profession” (Nettles & Millett, 2006, p. 89). It is critical in each stage of professional growth. Socialization reinforces students‟ performance, satisfaction, and success, particularly in doctoral programs.

Students are trained and indoctrinated into professional roles for future work through the socialization process (Baird, 1992; Bowen & Rudenstine, 1992; Hite, 1985; Nettles & Millett, 2006). Socialization agents have major impacts in terms of preparing graduate students for their field. Specifically, socialization agents are people who help students progress through their academic program.

Faculty and peers serve as the main agents in the socialization model. They define the different roles that need to be mastered. As socialization occurs, students grow professionally and personally closer to faculty and peers in their respective field. Approximately 95% of Humanities graduate students have designated mentors, as do 64% in Education (Nettles & Millett, 2006). Through these ongoing interactions, students learn the processes and best practices in their field. That is, faculty and peer agents socialize students to academic and professional values (Baird, 1992).

Positive faculty relationships with students lead to “interaction and mentoring of academic professionals in the making” (Baird, 1992, p. 6). Faculty members are the students‟ primary socialization agents and are the key people who define performance in the field. The experiences that students have with faculty often lead to increased mastery in the discipline and lack of relationships with faculty may lead to feelings of isolation and alienation (Baird, 1992;

Nettles & Millett, 2006). So, as students progress through a program, relationships that are built with faculty models and leaders are critical. In fact, doctoral students acknowledge that peer interactions and faculty mentorship are critical to the graduate socialization process.

Academic peers are secondary socialization agents to students in an academic program.

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